While refusing to disclose which categories of food Tesco would be focusing on next, Smith said “it’s pretty clear” from those food and drinks identified as providing the highest levels of children’s dietary sugar intake highlighted in the recent report from Public Health England (PHE) on ‘Sugar reduction: evidence for action’.
PHE noted in its October report that the biggest contributors of sugar intake in the UK for children aged four to 18 years of age were soft drinks, followed by: biscuits, buns, cakes, pastries and puddings; sugar and chocolate confectionery; and fruit juice. Yogurt, ice cream and dairy desserts and breakfast cereals also featured highly.
Speaking at a seminar on government policy on high fat, sugar and salt foods organised by the Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum in London yesterday (December 10), Smith announced that Tesco was in favour of setting targets for sugar reduction for children’s food and drink.
Speaking in advance of the publication of the government’s childhood obesity strategy, which a source at the seminar confirmed to FoodManufacture.co.uk would be released next month, Smith said: “The central part of our work will be on reformulation and reviewing portion sizes.”
Over the past three years, Tesco’s suppliers had reformulated over 4,200 products to reduce sugar, salt and fat. Products covered have included the likes of: own-label cornflakes, ketchup, Greek-style yogurt, strawberry jam and chicken nuggets, “with more to come”, Smith said. “We are committed to pledges to reducing salt, sugar and fat from all our food,” he said.
While he claimed Tesco had so far taken 4.6bn calories from soft drinks, he recognised that sugar reduction in a number of other food categories would prove more challenging. This is because sugar had a functional role in food as wells providing sweetness. But it was something Tesco was committed to achieving, he said.
“The challenge for us now is having got the current list of those products where the most amount of sugar is being consumed by, say children, then we need to apply exactly the same kind of disciplines and pressures on manufacturers who we know will find it a bit more difficult and where indulgence might be an overriding factor,” said Smith.
He said Tesco was responding to recent reports such as the from PHE and the draft carbohydrates and health report published by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition last summer, which called for free sugar intakes to be halved as a proportion of daily energy intake from 10g to 5g.
‘Sugar not only contributor to obesity’
“The recent reports are a fantastic contribution to the debate,” said Smith. “We all recognise that sugar is not the only contributor to obesity, we have to reduce the overall calorie intake to reduce those obesity rates. But I think it is really useful for customers to have simple and clear messages.”
The PHE report called on a reduction and rebalancing of the number and type of price promotions in all retail outlets. Another recommendation was a significant reduction in the marketing and advertising of high sugar food and drink products to children and adults across all media including digital platforms and through sponsorship.
PHE also called for a clearer definition for high sugar foods, given the public confusion that exists between free sugar content and total sugar content of food and drink.
Its recommendations also included the introduction of a broad, structured and transparently monitored programme of gradual sugar reduction in everyday food and drink products, combined with reductions in portion size.
More controversially, PHE called for the introduction of a price increase of a minimum of 10–20% on high sugar products through the use of a tax or levy such as on full sugar soft drinks. However, this is a measure that, to date, the government and the opposition have discounted on the grounds that it would disproportionately hit the poor.